Individual Comfort

This is a response to

By being declarative and deterministic, and rendered in ordinary plain text, HTML and CSS conceal no surprises, which is likely why they are not considered “real programming” by “real” programmers. This property, however, makes them especially easy to learn. Moreover, they are all you need to learn in order to achieve a great many useful results in an open Web.

https://doriantaylor.com/googles-long-march

I’m not sure how charitable to be with this statement. Both HTML and CSS require “virtual machines” for presentation and it’s just that the virtual machine is hidden deep in the bowels of the browser and the rendering pipeline. So in that sense both HTML and CSS are not really just “plain text” but more code interpreted by a hidden part of the web stack that no one other than the browser engineers have any control over because it is baked into the core of the browser (unlike JavaScript which has more obvious semantics because it is not hiding the fact that it is a programming language).

The same argument that applies to JavaScript applies to WebAssembly. WebAssembly exposes more parts of the stack to user space and allows more control instead of having to rely on hard-coded rendering rules for HTML and CSS. In theory, anyone can implement an interpreter for WebAssembly and be off to the races. That’s all a long-winded way of saying I don’t think HTML and CSS are as simple as the author makes them out to be and they’re not the great exemplars of simplicity that we should strive for.

The rest of it seems reasonable to me. Any organization that was created to solve a problem at some point starts propagating a variation of the problem it was meant to solve because it has become really good at solving variations of that problem. Google, I guess, is really good at crawling so whatever advantage it can eek out for itself to make it harder for some upstart to do the same will be prioritized and pushed forward. Other organizations do the same thing in their respective domains and this is a social problem so we need to address it as a social problem instead of couching it in technical language and chasing technical solutions.

This also reminds me of a quote

“It is a mistake,” he said, “ to suppose that the public wants the environment protected or their lives saved and that they will be grateful to any idealist who will fight for such ends. What the public wants is their own individual comfort. We know that well enough from our experience in the environmental crisis of the twentieth century. Once it was well known that cigarettes increased the incidence of lung cancer, the obvious remedy was to stop smoking, but the desired remedy was a cigarette that did not cause cancer. When it became clear that the internal-combustion engine was polluting the atmosphere dangerously, the obvious remedy was to abandon such engines, and the desired remedy was to develop non-polluting engines.”

― Isaac Asimov, The Gods Themselves

I think the main mistake the author is making is assuming people want an accessible web. What people want is a comfortable experience and the current set of web standards provides them enough of an experience that they are not concerned about hypothetical futures that could have been if the web was more accessible.